St. John the Baptist Day

The feast of the patron Saint John the Baptist was celebrated in Florence since the earliest times.

Historians and chroniclers tell us that the festival was not only religious, but also political and civil. All Florentines participated in the event – which lasted three days – decorating the doors of the houses, the streets and the squares, which were transformed into an immense outdoor stage.

The stranger who came to the city to attend the feast saw the rarest and most precious merchandise displayed in the shops – both source and symbol of the power of Florence.

On 23 June a solemn procession was held in which, in addition to the clergy, monks and friars, participated also companies of lay people who performed sacred representations. 

On 24 June a procession paid homage to the Signoria and set off towards the baptistery carrying votive candles to the patron saint. 

In the afternoon was held the Palio dei Bàrberi (“bàrbero” is the Berber horse, from the sub-desert region between Algeria and today’s Morocco). The race started from the bridge over the Mugnone, outside the Porta al Prato, called “ponte alle Mosse” because the starting signal was given there.

The animals, unsaddled and guided by expert jockeys, were going through the city till Porta alla Croce (in today’s Piazza Beccaria), where was the finish line. 

The length of this palio is remembered in a Florentine proverb which says: «A lunga corsa si ripiglia e ‘bàrberi», the local version of «who goes slowly goes healthy and goes far».

In 1563 Cosimo I introduced the Palio dei Cocchi, a race full of classical reminiscences: chariots pulled by two horses, similar to Roman chariots, competed in Piazza Santa Maria Novella on a path traced around two obelisks.

There’s also a recent tradition, still alive, of the “Fohi” (“Fires” in dialect) of Saint John Baptist. It is fireworks: first fired from the tower of Palazzo Vecchio, then from the bridge to the Carraia, today from the square of Michelangelo (on the evening of June 24 starting at 10pm; you can enjoy the view from the right bank of Arno river).

This year due to the COVID emergency in Florence there will be no fireworks (to avoid gatherings) but there will be the lighting show: some monuments in Florence will light up in different colors on the evening of 24 June. These are: the 6 historic gates, facade of San Miniato al Monte church, the loggia of the Istituto degli Innocenti and the Rampe del Poggi (beneath the square of Michelangelo).

Love Florence Italy staff wish you a happy St. John the Baptist day!